“…and justice and liberty for all, including pets?”
August 29, 1999
A veterinarian named Elliot Katz, president of an organization called In Defense of Animals, has proposed to San Francisco’s Commission of Animal Control and Welfare that city documents, when referring to pet owners, also include the phrase, “and/or pet guardians.” This proposal won’t actually affect existing laws regarding behavior towards animals.
Rather Katz’ intent, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, is to “… get rid of the concept of “pet ownership.'”
Apparently, the proposal, currently being considered by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, is a symbolic gesture, although the animal commission chairman, Richard Schulke, stated, “I’ve always thought of my pets as my family and friends.”
I don’t know what to make of this. I have an abhorrence of symbolic gestures, true, but on the other hand, as an expression of bland moral principle I don’t see anything wrong with the proposal. Well, maybe there’s one thing wrong: Who thinks of themselves as pet owners? I have two cats, but I don’t think I own them. I “have” them, I suppose. When people ask me, “Do you have any pets,” I say, “Yes, two cats.” Is “having” the same thing as “owning?” If I say, “I have a rash,” for instance, does that imply ownership?
And, OK, maybe I find something else wrong with the proposal. I certainly don’t consider myself the “guardian” of my cats. That makes me sound like a policeman, or a Power Ranger Ian Shoales: Guardian of Cats! “Put that cat down, or face the consequences!”
If anything, my Siamese cat guards me. She goes after anyone that comes between her and my lap. My friends all live in fear of her. My other (large, fluffy, clumsy) cat, who naps during the day in a place unknown to me, also doesn’t need guarding just food, water and a belly-rub around bedtime. And I can’t say I consider the cats family or friends either. I don’t even think of them as “my” cats. I generally think of them as “the girls.” And though I occasionally indulge in a crooning falsetto when I speak to them, this may be a function of a fundamental dynamic between humans and animals. It certainly doesn’t mean I think of them as my “property.” My car is property. Do I croon to my car? No. My computer is property. Do I croon to my computer? Well, occasionally…
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But I’m revealing more of myself than perhaps you care to know.
Dr. Katz and his cohorts hope that this proposal will start a national trend. Eventually, we’ll think of our goldfish, ferrets, salamanders, kitties, dogs, horses and bunny rabbits not as pets, but as alternative life forms with whom we share living space. That’s the hope, it seems.
Animals will become more like really needy roommates who don’t share expenses. I, for one, can’t wait.
I hate to dash his hopes, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
I just read in the New York Times, to underline this point, that a George Miller of Kansas City, worried about the self-esteem of his bloodhound after he had him neutered, patented “Neuticles,” a kind of codpiece for dogs and cats. There’s a cheap polyprophylene version, and a more expensive silicon model that is actually surgically implanted in the animal. About 25,000 of these artificial testicles have been sold so far, in the U.S. and abroad, which leads me to wonder, is this really guardian behavior?
Some say there is such a thing as “post-neutering trauma.” And, of course, neutering one’s pets would be an “ownership” indicator.
After all, we “fix” our televisions, cars and radios when they break. We even try to fix our computers, but it never works. We also never dye our computers pink, or put bows in their hair. And when we call, “Here computer,,” we just get an error message.
At least my computer doesn’t hiss.
Next upgrade maybe. (Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)